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Throat Cancer Surgery

MSK throat cancer surgeon Ian Ganly

Surgery is the treatment of choice for many people with throat cancer. You may be able to have a minimally invasive surgery in which your surgeon removes the tumor through your mouth. Or your doctor may recommend a traditional open surgery to remove the cancer.

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a leading center for the treatment of throat cancer. Our surgeons are nationally and internationally recognized for their expertise.

  • At MSK, our surgeons bring extraordinary skill to caring for people with advanced throat cancer. We use approaches designed to maximize swallowing and speech quality. We are often able to spare the larynx or voice box, or use minimally invasive techniques to remove tumors through the mouth. Our team of experts has pioneered approaches to identify people who may benefit from less-intensive treatment.
  • People who need additional treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, receive care from specialists who have dedicated their careers to treating cancer that begins in the head and neck.
  • Our surgeons work closely with a team of a team of professionals who help formulate an individualized treatment plan for you. Our experts include extremely knowledgeable and experienced radiologists, pathologists, and dentists. Our speech pathologists can anticipate and manage any changes in your speech or swallowing, our nutritionists work with you to maintain a healthy diet, and our rehabilitation specialists help with your recovery before, during, and after treatment.

MSK’s throat cancer surgeons are available for consultations at our locations across New Jersey as well as on Long Island, in Westchester, and in Manhattan.

Here, you can find more information about your surgery options as well as information on MSK’s expertise.

Transoral Robotic Surgery (TORS)

TORS is a minimally invasive surgery used to remove oropharyngeal cancer, including tonsil cancer. It combines three-dimensional imaging with tiny robotic surgical instruments. Together these tools allow your surgeon to access the tumor through your mouth. The approach does not require any external incisions. Recovery times are much faster than open surgery. Many people need to stay in the hospital for only a day or two. Speech and swallowing ability is more likely to be preserved with this minimally invasive approach.

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s surgeons have extensive experience with TORS — and in selecting patients whose cancer can be cured with this technique. We use a highly sophisticated robotic platform known as the da Vinci surgical system.

Transoral Laser Microsurgery (TLM)

TLM is a minimally invasive approach to remove throat cancers using a powerful microscope and laser. At MSK, our surgeons typically use TLM for early-stage laryngeal cancer and for oropharyngeal cancer.

During the procedure, a microscope is used to look down the throat in order to produce a magnified view of the larynx. Your surgeon then aims a special laser beam at the tumor to remove it from the surrounding healthy tissue.

TLM is often performed on an outpatient basis with a safe, fast-acting anesthetic that wears off quickly after the procedure.

Open Surgical Approaches for Throat Cancer

Although a minimally invasive approach can be a good option for many people with throat cancer, it’s not right for everyone. Our head and neck surgeons are highly skilled in open surgery. They regularly perform complex operations that are not always possible at other cancer centers.

Open surgery can be a particularly good option for people with large tumors or tumors that have come back after previous treatment. Our surgeons are expert in knowing when such an approach might be right for each individual person. Our team is especially experienced at customizing treatment options to maximize the chances for a cure while at the same time preserving quality of life to the greatest extent possible.

People who have open surgery to remove a throat cancer may need plastic surgery to repair and restore the affected area. MSK’s plastic and reconstructive surgeons have extensive experience in caring for people with throat cancer. Their goal is to preserve the form and functions of the throat by using the latest techniques available.

Reconstruction for throat cancer typically involves a microsurgical approach called free tissue transfer. This is when a plastic surgeon transfers a piece of tissue, along with the blood vessels, from one area of the body to the area where the cancer was removed in order to repair the surgical site. Tiny sutures (stitches) are used to connect the small blood vessels of the tissue to the blood vessels in the neck. That allows the transferred tissue to thrive and heal properly.

Laryngectomy

Some people with throat cancer may require a laryngectomy. This is an open surgery to remove a part or all of the larynx.

Whenever appropriate, surgeons at MSK perform partial laryngectomies. We use intricate surgical approaches to preserve as much of the larynx as possible. In some cases, a total laryngectomy (removal of the entire larynx) is medically necessary.

Our speech pathologists have particular expertise in working with people to regain their ability to speak after a laryngectomy. We provide comprehensive rehabilitation before and after surgery. We counsel you through your options and work closely with you and your family during the recovery process.

Learn more about what to expect before, during, and after a laryngectomy.

Lymph Node Removal

You will undergo imaging prior to surgery to carefully assess if your throat cancer has spread to lymph nodes. If your tumor has spread or is likely to spread to your lymph nodes, your surgeon will remove the lymph nodes in your neck during your operation. MSK throat surgeons have extensive experience in this complex procedure, called a lymphadenectomy or lymph node dissection.

The goal of lymphadenectomy is to remove the lymph nodes that have been shown to contain or are likely to contain cancer while minimizing complications. This reduces your changes of the cancer coming back.

Speech and Swallow Therapy for Throat Cancer

MSK’s speech pathologists are experts in helping you recover from any problems related to your ability to speak or swallow. They will be there for you before, during, and after your treatment to help address any problems. The goal is to achieve optimal continuity of care.

Before you start treatment, your speech pathologist performs a baseline assessment. This measures your swallowing, speech, voice, and mouth movements. You will learn how these abilities may change as a result of treatment. Your speech pathologist will work with your care team to make a plan for your care during and after treatment. They will be there for you throughout your journey if needed to help you improve and maintain your swallowing, speech, voice, and mouth movements.

Why Choose Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Head and Neck Surgeons for Your Throat Cancer Care

  • Our head and neck surgeons provide unparalleled skill and experience in treating throat cancer. We strive for both complete cancer removal as well as preservation of appearance and functions of the throat.
  • We offer minimally invasive options, including laser surgery and robot-assisted procedures. We’re highly experienced in knowing whether these approaches might be right for you.
  • If you have HPV-positive throat cancer, MSK’s team of experts may be able to offer specialized approaches to ensure you receive just the right amount of treatment. Our goal is to minimize the impact of cancer on your quality of life without affecting your chances of a cure.
  • Using sophisticated software, our plastic surgeons prepare tailored reconstruction plans and perform mock surgeries in advance to achieve shorter, more precise operations with potentially fewer complications.
  • Our surgeons work closely with our radiology experts who are focused solely on head and neck cancers. This collaboration allows us to create an exquisitely precise roadmap of your cancer.
  • We are dedicated to giving each patient the best quality of life possible. That’s why we take a holistic approach to care, with speech pathologists and a range of other experts as key members of the team.
  • We offer access to clinical trials investigating new therapies for advanced throat cancer, including immunotherapy and targeted therapy options. 
  • People who need additional treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy, receive care from specialists who have dedicated their careers to treating cancers that begin in the head and neck region.
  • Our surgeons are available for consultations at MSK’s locations across New Jersey as well as on Long Island, in Westchester, and in Manhattan.